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Gaotai 5Th Red Army Corps Martyrs Monument
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Zhangye City landmarks dating from a far more recent history include first and foremost a Monument dedicated to a part of the revolutionary Red Army that perished in 1935 AD during a lesser known episode of the Long March now known as the "Ningxia Campaign".
The Gaotai Martyrs Monument, as the name suggests is not part of Zhangye Town, but found east outside of Gaotai Town due east of Zhangye City Prefecture. With this location it is located some 80 kilometers to the North-West of Zhangye City along the Lanzhou-Urumqi Highway.

The Gaotai Long March Martyrs Monument serves as the official site of commemoration for the so-called fifth army corps of the 4Th Red Workers and Peasants Army Detachment, which was sent to these regions in September 1935 AD only shortly after their arrival from the devastating "Long March". Due to various peculiar events, important political factors, the harassment by forces of the Muslim Warlords of the Region and a cold and harsh winter, half of the Army perished along the way to Gaotai, finding a hostile population and village after village with no food whatsoever. The remaining soldiers were cornered at the Town to make final stand and be defeated.
Only a handful of the army were to return, most escaping on foot through Qinghai Province or hiding in local villages.
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Many questions remain as to what really happened on September the 10Th, when Zhang Guotai's armies suddenly left in the dead of night, never to return again.
Trouble had been on the Horizon for quite some time, as Zhang Guotai had the most numerous and strongest Army details under his command and he was a founding communist party member who had been part of the May the 4Th 1919 AD Movement.
Zhang Guotai has strong credentials and was a leading General. Mao Zedong on the other hand was the aspiring political figurehead of the movement.
Both Men disagreed on idea's for the major strategies to follow in the future, whereas neither of them was inclined to give in to the other. They both had claims to the Party Leadership, Guotai perhaps more than Mao who represented essentially a marginal and elite group.
Earlier Zhang had been assigned to lead the daily operation of E-Yu-Wan Revolutionary Base at the border of Hubei, Henan, and Anhui provinces as General Secretary and chairman of the military committee, whereas Mao had been the Chairman of the standing committee of Jiangxi Soviet Base. Apart from the size of their respective Army and following, they were essentially equal in experience and status as Leaders.

Although in earlier 1935 AD Mao Zedong had become the Chairman of the Central Committee and had hidden the true size of his own army, buying him time to gain power within the political top of the revolutionaries, the situation of two way split was bound to come to a head sooner or later. It did so, however, in quite a surprising way.

As the official reading of the Story of the "Ningxia Campaign" goes today:
In October 1935 AD, Zhang Guotai -the commanding officer and immediate political opponent of Mao Zedong in the struggle for the top leading job of the Communist Party and Army- passed on a false order to the Officers in his 4Th Army, directing them to leave the main army at once, cross the Yellow River and head westward into the Hexi Corridor of Gansu Province. The reason behind this apparently odd move lay in the political idea's of the Leadership.
Zhang Guotai essentially felt that the Red Army was beat and near Death. Since they lost most of their Men and Women on the Long March and were at the end of their physical endurance he wanted to give up. After being defeated so many times during their tour of survival in the many
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Head down to the Main Entrance with its towers to find the words of General Zhu De, the Top Leader and Military strategist of the Communist Party throughout the long march and the anti-Japanese war, inscribed on the front above. The white marble Gate reads in large caracters: "Mausoleum to Revolutionary Martyrs". On the other side of the gate, inside, is another inscription. This one is from the hand of revolutionary writer and socialist theorist Guo Moro declaring: "Imperishable Lofty Spirit"..
Carved on the exterior of the Mausoleum Grounds are 8 eight Chinese caracters, which translate as: "Monument to Comrade Dong Zhentang". On the back of the Monument are another 4 caracters, reading: "Eternal Glory to Revolutionary Martyrs".

Once through the Gate one enters into a small Paradise. A Central pathway of exactly 100 Meters length leads down to a solemn small building which serves as the Central Memorial Hall. Nearby around the corner is a reserved section with the graves of fallen soldiers (men and women). A small Pagoda pavilion with a two tiered roof stands guard over the graves, accompanying them surrounded by flowers and green connifers, symbolizing the eternal spririts of the enlightened revolutionaries. At the front of the Grave section stands a black marble stone inscribed with the following words: "Tomb of the Revolutionary Martyrs of the Fifth Red Army Corps of the 4Th Workers and Peasants Red Army". According to the date inscribed it was dedicated on Januari the Tenth of 1967 AD.
The Stone was added that year after an inspection tour of the region by Communist Party Official General Ye Jianying, himnself a long march survivor.

Ye Jianying was one of China's early communist cadres who, after following Sun Yat-Sen in the 1919 AD Revolution in Guangdong, joined the Party in 1927 AD. Ye Jianying returned from exile to join the Jiangxi Soviet under leadership of Mao Zedong. A loyal comrade of Zhou Enlai, Ye Yianjing as a Red Army General, then served as Chief of Staff under Zhang Guotai in the 4Th Red Army.
Thus, by the Time of September 1935, having re-connected with the Army Group under Mao Zedong in South Gansu Province, General Jianying had found himself in an uncomfortable position. He felt strong loyalties towards Zhou Enlai with whom he had fought during the Nanchang Uprisings. Zhou Enlai served as Mao's second in what was clearly a winning political Team. On the other hand, he served in a crucial function immediatly subordinate to Zhang Guotai, General of the largest and strongest Army Group among the Communists and Mao's main opponent in the struggle for the ruling power within the United Communist Party and Movement. His Fate hung in precarious balance, to say the least.
Again, according to the official Line of the Communist Party historians today: "As chief of staff of Zhang Guotao, Ye Jianying realized Mao was right (I.e. they should remain independent of Russian influence which had been shown to lead to disaster, but instead should follow the brilliant plans of Mao Zedong and go to North Shaanxi Province) where they could rebuild the army and re-energize their movement at a last remaining revolutionary base) but could not convince Zhang to go with Mao's plan, and instead of supporting Zhang unconditionally as he did in past battles such as the Guangzhou (Canton) Uprising, Ye Jianying sided with Mao Zedong by escaping to Mao's headquarters from Zhang's headquarters, taking all the codes books and maps with him".
This version of events suggest the break was caused by Mao Zedong rather than Zhang Guotao who created the split of Party Forces. Afterall, Mao could not succeed in his later plans without the radio codes and maps kept by Chief-of-Staff Ye Jianying. This given, it is likely that Mao instructed Ye Jianying to join him on his break-away and instructed him what to do. It was either this, or it was General Ye Jianying who created the break by deciding for himself to steal the Maps and head over to Mao's and see what he would say of it, an interesting but unlikely possibility.
The Battle for China and Two Rivals
with many losses against the forces of local warlord Ma Bufang. After many battles and even more skirmishes the Red Army finally reached beyond Zhangye to end up near Gaotai. There the communist Army ran into a larger opposing force. Fighting continuously for 7 days and nights, the ragged Red Army finally ran out of munitions and provisions, leading to their ultimate defeat. Dong Zhentang, one of the leading officers, was killed in action along with an estimated 3000 of his Men and Women.

Later, after losing his entire Army, Zhang Guotao convened a meeting of 40-50 senior leaders at a monastery in Dangba, Qinghai Province and accused Mao Zedong of adopting a retreat approach of "flightist" and "rightist utopia" nature. What me meant was that Mao was out of his mind to think he could drag on the Long March even further. General Guotai felt that the Red Army likely couldn't survive without outside support (in case: the Soviet Union of communist comrades). The strategy of Mao to head further North into barren North-Shaanxi would, in his opinion, lead to a slow death of the movement.

The loss of General Guotao's Army suddenly played out to benefit Mao Zedong, who -after Guotao found he had no claim to the throne as he had no Men nor Officers to back him up- went on to carry out his own plans to vie for the Top.
Because of Zhang Guotao lost his Army, Mao Zedong could claim ultimate power, the combining of the chairs of Chairman of the Politburo and the Commander-in-Chief of the revolutionary Red Army.
The temporary absence of Zhang Guotao certainly served Mao the opportunity to declare himself the only Chinese Leader in relations with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Mao Zedong reached the North Shaanxi Base he had hoped to find and so got a second chance at building his Marxist Movement. Having eliminated Guotao as opponent, Mao and his clique went on to pervert the powers of the local Leadership there. The heroic peasant leader of the Shaanxi Base died (some say under suspicious circumstances) in battle not long after the arrival of Mao's group, once more leaving Mao unchallenged and in charge of affairs.

Of course Zhang Guotao claimed that he, "having terminated the retreat ensuing from the defeat of anti-5th-siege" (I.e. he having joined Mao after Mao sent him on a wild goose chase) disagreed with the strategy of building a Base in North-Shaanxi Province. Instead, in his opinion the retreat strategy had utterly failed, therefor the only choice of the Reds now was to attack the Central Government. He would advocate an "attack" approach by going south.
Zhang Guotao officially announced that he blamed Mao Zedong for "the clandestine runaway" (of Mao Zedong and his group, not the 5Th Army of Zang Guotai) - indicating that it was never his idea to run off to the West but that his Army had been abandoned or worse misled by Mao Zedong, in order for Mao to gain the upper hand in the power struggle within.
Breaking completely with the by then solidly established central line created by Mao Zedong and his later much hailed "superior thought", Zhang Guotao proposed to establish an "Interim CCP Central" by following the example of Lenin breakaway from "Second Communist International". The effort was doomed from the beginning and nothing came of it.
Without any supporters, Zhang was purged in 1937 at the Extended Meeting of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, after which he defected to the Kuomintang in 1938 AD.
After the defeat of the Kuomintang in 1949 he went into exile in Hong Kong. Later, in 1968 AD, he emigrated to Canada with his wife Tzi Li Young in 1968 to join their two sons who were already living in Toronto. After suffering several strokes, he died in a Toronto nursing home on December the 3rd of 1979 at the age of 82, having converted to Christianity the year before.
In a conversation with Anastas Mikoyan, Mao Zedong once referred to Zhang Guotai, as a "traitor, defector, and renegade." revealing lingering sentiments of distrust on Mao's behalf. The truth about the events surrounding the split has been heavily suppressed on orders of Mao Zedong himself. Only long after the death of Mao Zedong some information has come out.
As it was later put together in the official line now recognized as the actual events, the clash between Zhang Guotao and Mao Zedong clearly demonstrates the utter brilliance of Mao Zedong as a strategist, creating the foundations for the later myth of "The brilliance of Mao Zedong thought".
According to this view, precisely the fact of the survival of the Red Army during the Long March, combined with the many towns and provinces they visited combined to create a message of Hope for the People. Mao had been the Propaganda Minister during the Kuomintang National Government before the Shanghai Massacre in 1927 AD, thus he saw the whole Communist Movement on the March through China as a giant machine which had announced the coming of the Communist Paradise to the common people and which had thus layed the foundation for future mobilization of the peasants 'masses' and ultimate led to success.
Mao intended to press on in China, gain independence from Russian domination of strategy and politics, keep escaping from the pursuing Nationalist Armies and head towards the North Shaanxi Revolutionary Base which they had been hearing rumors about. There they would regroup gain strength and momentum, and go on to fight for the rest of the Nation's territories, naturally under Leadership of Mao Zedong not anyone else. To do so, however he would somehow have to deal with the gathered opposition to his line within.
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According to the official version of events today, Zhang Guotao chose his own path, over-ruling his partners and comrades within the main body of the Revolutionary Army, Party and Central Committee. Offcially, this is 'proven' by the fact that earlier, during the so called Shawo  'Enlarged Meeting of the Politburo' (meaning all Commanders available in the Area) of August 5 and 6 1935 AD, it was offcially decided among all that 'all red army forces should proceed North to fight the Japanese and create a Soviet in Sichuan, Gansu and Shanxi Provinces'. Thus, the decision had been made in Favor of Mao's Idea's and had since been official orders.
Disregarding this decision made for a defection by Zhang Guotai and his Forces.
As it seen in the official explanation, by disconnecting his strong army from the Central Group and moving away westward in order to pursue his own strategies, he risked the lives of his Men as well as the existance of the Communist Party and so the whole army payed a terrible price. It was Zhang Guotai who broke with the party in an un-announced way, and headed off West to establish his own powerbase. It was not Mao Zedong who manipulated events in order to split off the Central Party Committe from Zhang Guotai and his Army in order to pursue his own goals. Certain circumstances and even sources however suggest that the offical history is not entirely of truth.
For instance:The Shawo Meeting was not a full meeting of the Politburo, and those not able to be present belonged mainly to other Army Groups than Zhang Guotai's.

Whatever the political backgrounds of the operation: Leaving Mao Zedong and the Central Party Committee group behind on the East-bank of the Yellow River, the strong 4Th Red Army traveled west down the Hexi corridor and fought bravely
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provinces he wanted to seek refugee under the supposedly powerful wings of the Soviet Union. Zhang Guotai saw the only chance of survival in continued shepperding by and dependence on the Soviet Union. His plan was to head to the west and set up camp near the Soviet Border, from which he hoped to be supported and resupplied then.
Mao Zedong on the other hand, insisted on turning retreat and defeat into ultimate victory. Or at least, he wanted to find the Base in Shaanxi Province and occupy it so he himself could lead the communist struggle for national rule from there.
The 5Th Red Army Corps Martyrs Memorial was erected in the year 1957 AD and, with a surface area of 4.3 hectares, serves as a permanent Memorial to those who laid down their lives in the Battle at Gaotai as well as their mausoleum. Thus, the memorial is the last resting place of General Dong Zhentang and his army of mostly nameless soldiers.
The 5Th Army Detachment Martyrs Monument:
A third less official communist party version of the events holds it that events escalated on the Night of September 10Th when Zhang tried to have Mao and his followers arrest and killed if needed, but his plan was foiled by his own staff member Ye Jianying and Yang Shangkun, who fled to Mao's headquarters to inform Mao about Zhang Guotao's plot, (taking the code books and maps with them). As a result, Mao immediately moved his troop northward and thus escaped arrest and possible death. Again, Zhang Guotao is depicted as the villain and Mao is depicted as the mis-understood Genius with the only correct vision).

At any rate, as a result of Ye Jianying's actions, Zhang Guotao's communication with Comintern (the Soviets) was cut while Mao Zedong established a radio link with the Comintern, which then was forced to accept Mao Zedong's sole leadership in the Communist Party of China.
Another result was that 75% percent of Zhang Guotao's strong Army was stripped away, thereby reducing his claim to the Throne of the Communist Clan. As a last and third result, Mao Zedong was able to reach the last remaining revolutionary Base first, thereby getting a head start on Zhang Guotao, who was then never able to inspire much of a following there. Thus, it was in fact General Ye Jianying who enabled Mao Zedong to take the bold steps necessary to ensure his control over the direction the Communist Party of China was to take in the Future struggles beyond.
According to historians and those close to the "Great Helmsman" Mao would never forget the contribution of Ye and in his own words, "Ye Jianying saved the (Chinese Communist) Party, the (Chinese) red army, and the (Chinese) revolution".

Thus, although General Jianying's motives for his drastic moves have never been fully disclosed, the General found Mao Zedong firmly indebted to his person. As history has proven Mao Zedong to have been right to continue the struggle and rebuild in Shaanxi independent of soviet influences, General Jianying found himself thoroughly established inside the camp of the winning party group under Mao Zedong. His life and career were saved.

Although General Jianying lived on to follow the Path of Mao Zedong to Victory and the establishment of The Peoples Republic of China, gaining him the peacetime position of Governor of his native Guangdong Province, he did have a falling out with Mao Zedong eventually. It was however over a strictly political issue.
In the views of Mao Zedong and thus that of the Central Party Committee, Ye Jianying had been to soft in his insistence on issues of Land reform in Guangdong Province. Essentially because the General understood his own people, he had chosen to refrain from certain enforced land redistribution measures. Mao Zedong however only knew the Centralized Business Model, he insisted on equality everywhere and for everyone, nevermind any local situations or sensitivities. Thus, the General turned Governor and Marshall (1955 AD) was sacked not soon after taking office (he was replaced by Lin Biao who was by then the intended chosen successor of Mao.). His loss of face was not complete however. Probably due to his services rendered earlier, Ye Jianying retained his full military functions and continued his military career.
Having seemingly lost his chances at a Civilian career, the General was then used by Mao Zedong to carry out various odd jobs and functions until the year 1968 AD, thus giving him the chance to visit Gaotai and the Hexi Corridor, a major grain producing area for a starving nation.

Surviving all and returning to find the lost 5Th Army detachment during his tour in 1967 AD the General visited the mausoleum site and touched by the event, wrote a poem which he left behind at the Site. His poem goes as follows:

" Battling to Death were the Heroes on a road wrong.
Today with sorrow I cherish the hero alone Dong Zhentang.
In a twinkle of Time I see the tower marvelously changed.
To your eternal glory Gaotai is now standing for long".

Ye Jianying was clever in using his military influence and power to provide some limited support and protection for some of the reformers within the Party, saving Men such as Zhao Ziyang from Mao's political purges. During the years after 1968 AD, in the turbulent period of the Cultural Revolution (1966/68 AD - 1976 AD) he was responsible for spoiling assassination attempts on Deng Xiaoping's life. During the last months of Mao's Life He Jianying returned once more in a crucial role in which he (with Li Xiannian) led the conspiracy of generals and Party elders that overthrew Jiang Qing (Mao's 3rd and last Wife) and the so-called Gang of Four (simplified Chinese: 四人帮). The elimination of the Gang of Four caused celebrations throughout the nation, and the now Marshall Jiangying found a grateful Nation applauding him.
Thus, having helped overcome the dictatorship of Mao and his cronies and saving Deng Xiaoping the new Leader from Death earlier, Ye Jianying helped open the path to China's new Era under overall Leadership of Deng Xiaoping. In the new Government Ye Jianying would go on to be the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress between 1978 AD and 1983 AD.
Marshall Ye Jianying retired as vice-chairman of the Party when the position was abolished in 1982, and left the Politburo in September 1985. He died at the age of 89 in Beijing.

Planted outside of the green wooden fencing that surrounds the well-kept grave area are an abundance of fruit trees; apple, apricot, peach, pear, grapes and others to remind those who visit that they are still picking and enjoying the fruits achieved through the sacrifices made by these Revolutionary Men and Women.
The dead soldiers rest unawares of the story behind their sacrifices. The Nation moves on into a new Millennium, thanking Mao Zedong and forgetting the mistakes of the Past including this 5Th Army Group buried in far, dusty and remote corner of the Nation.
Music Bonus - Revolutionary Song "Without the Communist Party, China would not have been founded (Chorus).
This page was last updated on: July 22, 2017
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